The concerto finals have begun


Last night, the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall was packed to the rafters, the atmosphere was celebratory, the stage was crammed with orchestral players. It was the first night of the concerto finals, an evening of three E minor Concertos and one F minor. Would we hear the winner?

First to perform the E minor Concerto was 2007 Tchaikovsky competition second-prize winner Miroslav Kultyshev (no first prize awarded). He’s a brilliant pianist, technically superb, with a full, warm tone. He played everything tastefully, perfectly. But ultimately it lacked soul. So no, not the winner.

The Steinway was wheeled off and the Fazioli took its place for Daniil Trifonov. Although he was uncontrolled in the first movement of the E minor (perhaps he was nervous), in the second and third there were some lovely things happening. His playing was full of fevered imagination and if a few of his ideas were a little left-field and didn’t quite work, there were still genuinely spine-tingling moments. But sadly, not a winning performance.

Pawel Wackarecy, the lone Pole in the finals, was cheered enthusiastically by the audience. He was one of only two finalists to choose the F minor Concerto. He played lyrically but something seemed to be holding him back, as if he was full of the right intentions but couldn’t quite express himself as he would want to. Again, not the winner.

Finally, the one we’d all been waiting for: competion favourite Evgeni Bozhanov. I’d not been convinced about him in the second stage but I warmed to his third-stage performance. He clearly has great talent, ability and something to say. I awaited his E minor Concerto eagerly, but – oh, Evgeni! What were you thinking? The grandstanding was back, the histrionic gestures: he thumped the piano, he gurned. To me, it sounded like the cold corpse of Chopin pumped full of anabolic steroids. Harsh perhaps, but I really felt he let himself – and all the people rooting for him – down. My colleague on the Chopin Gazette here in Warsaw, John Allison, likened his performance to an audition for a Hollywood movie about a concert pianist. I have just one thing to add: Next!

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